Confined, workers flee: unprecedented rebellion in an iPhone factory in China

Sylvie Claire / November 23, 2022

Let's defend our rights!": employee protests broke out Wednesday in China in the world's largest iPhone factory, owned by Taiwanese subcontractor Foxconn, according to images posted on social networks Twitter and Weibo. The factory is located in Zhengzhou, capital of Henan province (center). It is a huge industrial site that usually employs some 200,000 people, most of whom reside on site in dormitories.
China is relentlessly pursuing a zero Covid health policy, which involves strict confinements, quarantines for those who test positive and almost daily PCR tests, causing growing discontent among the population. Some people, such as students and workers, may be confined to campuses or production sites for many weeks at a time, with no opportunity to move around freely.
Images of the protests, which AFP was unable to verify, show a crowd of workers marching down a street. Some are facing people in white full-body protective suits and riot police. In other footage, hundreds of people in the white suits can be seen standing on a road near what appear to be factory dormitories. The person filming from an adjacent building says, "It's happening again. It's been going on since last night until this morning. »
Another video clip apparently shows security guards kicking a person who appears to be a worker lying on a road.
And in a live video broadcast at night, dozens of workers shout "defend our rights!" in front of rows of police officers and a police vehicle with its lights on. Then the author of the video shouts "they charge!" and "tear gas canisters!".
A video clip of the same night demonstration, taken from a different angle, shows workers setting off fire extinguishers in the direction of police officers outside the camera's field. A daytime photo shows the charred remains of a gate, apparently burned during the night. The keyword #Foxconn riots seemed to be censored Wednesday afternoon on Chinese social networks, including Weibo. Some messages referring to the protests remained online, however.
Foxconn is a large group that assembles electronic products for many international brands. The Taiwanese company, Apple's main subcontractor, has been confronted in recent months with an increase in Covid-19 cases at its huge Zhengzhou site.
Foxconn had decided to confine the area, with the workers inside. But hundreds of panicked workers then fled on foot, some complaining about the chaos and disorganization.
To keep the plant afloat, the company offered large bonuses to remaining employees and tried to recruit new workers. The American giant Apple, whose flagship product is the iPhone, had admitted in early November that the site lockdown had "temporarily affected" the production of the factory, a blow before the holiday sales period.
Foxconn is China's largest private sector employer, with more than a million employees across the country in some 30 factories and research institutes. The Taiwanese group did not immediately respond to a request for comment from AFP.
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